Amos is one of the most relevant, practical, and contemporary studies found in the Scriptures. The times in which Amos lived are remarkably similar to ours. The difficulties faced and the social and cultural conditions are strikingly like those today. Of all the prophets, none is more apropos for us.
Amos preached in the eighth century bc, delivering his message somewhere around 760 or 750 bc. His contemporaries were Hosea, Isaiah, and Micah.
Amos hailed from the little town of Tekoa, ten miles south of Jerusalem on the edge of the desert. It was hard to make a living in Tekoa. The land was barren and the soil unproductive. Standing on the barren desert land, Amos could view Mount Nebo where Moses died. He could look down the slopes into the Dead Sea. We could not imagine a more desolate place than Amos's hometown.
Amos 7:14 identifies him as a herdsman and a dresser of sycamore trees. The sycamore tree had a fig-like fruit that Amos picked for a living. Sycamore fruit was not especially good. Only really poor people ate it.
Wild beasts preyed upon the sheep, and Amos constantly had to protect them. He had to be diligent in order to make a living.
While tending his sheep and dressing the trees, he became aware of the conditions of his day because he lived on a much-traveled route. Caravans from one side of the land would pass to the other through Tekoa.
At this time, life was extremely difficult for Judah and Israel. Civil war had split them into two divisions, the north and the south. The southern kingdom was Judah and the northern kingdom, Israel. Judah's king was Uzziah, and Israel's was Jeroboam II. During such a time Amos preached. In this period of history, Egypt and Assyria were always vying for world supremacy, perhaps similar to America and Russia today. When one became strong, it attacked the other, passing through Judah and Israel. It was as though Judah and Israel were highways for the conquering armies from the south and the north. The tyranny and sin of Egypt and Assyria hung like ominous shrouds over Judah and Israel.
Around the middle of the eighth century bc, when Amos came to preach, there was a lull in the fighting. Remember, Amos was from Judah in the south, and God called him to go to Israel in the north. That didn't go over very well with Israel. That was like a "rebel" going north and telling a "Yankee" what to do.
In Israel matters were going rather well. There was a period of peace and prosperity between the conquering armies of Assyria and Egypt. Wealth abounded. People lived in luxury and self-indulgence, or they lived in abject poverty. The judiciary was dishonest; government was corrupt. There was evidence everywhere of extortion, riots, violence, and class hatred. Wealth was gained by injustice and oppression. Dishonesty was the rule and not the exception; there was an indifference to suffering. The people who had it good lorded it over those who didn't. They multiplied peace and prosperity into selfishness and self-indulgence.
Religious conditions followed the same pattern. Outwardly religion thrived in Israel. Attendance soared, treasuries bulged with money, and religious pilgrimages to Bethel, Gilgal, and Beersheba were common. Inwardly, there was sickness. The priests were little more than professional leeches. Immorality was practiced in the name of Jehovah. Real righteousness was hated and opposed. There was much insincerity, hypocrisy, and superstition. The people were utterly lacking in an understanding of real religion. There were gross immorality, drunkenness, revelry, and everything that is associated with evil.
Here, it becomes painfully revelant for us today. In this period of relative peace, instead of being grateful to God for the peace and prosperity that he had given, the people used this time to go more deeply into sin. Can't you see the parallel? In spite of current recession, we in America have been living in a time of unprecedented prosperity. There has never been a time when we have had more possessions, more ease, and more evidence of God's blessings materially and socially upon our land. Yet, rather than using these prosperous conditions that God has allowed in our praise and worship of him, we, too, just like Israel, have used prosperity as an occasion to go deeper into sin than ever before. While religion flourishes, real worship of God diminishes. While outwardly it seems that everything is going strong, inwardly there is decay, rottenness, and evil of every kind.
But Amos wasn't deceived by the publicity and outward signs. He saw the judgment of God coming upon the nation. The nation that rebels against God must pay the consequences. If we carefully read the Book of Amos, we will discover that his preaching was sheer desperation. In desperation, he warned the people of impending judgment. And he was right. Within thirty years, Sargon II of Assyria swept into Israel. The Northern Kingdom fell, and the people were scattered in captivity and bondage.
At Bethel, one of the shrines in Israel, was a priest named Amaziah. Amaziah told Jeroboam II that Amos had conspired against him and the house of Israel and that the land was not able to bear all his words (7:10). What had Amos done? He had told the simple truth! Amaziah, the priest who ought to have agreed, said, "The people cannot bear his words." Amos had told them that Jeroboam would die by the sword, and Israel would be led away captive out of their own land. Amaziah ordered Amos to go back where he had come from to prophesy. Amos was delivering God's message, and the priest accused him of prophesying against the king.
The greatest threat to the message of God lies within the religious community! Amos was God's gift to Israel, a rebellious people. He was God's attempt to convey the message to the people. He was the conscience God gave them. Their consciences had been seared. They cared not for the things of God, but Amos was God's special messenger to the people.
In New Testament times, God named pastors, teachers, and evangelists as gifts to the church. God has always had special gifts in the form of people for the church. Amos was God's gift to Israel, yet his greatest opposition came from the religious community.
The fiercest opposition to the cause of Christ today does not lie with Madalyn Murray O'Hair; it lies with the godless consciences of religious leadership. Every major assault in our century upon the church and the Word of God has come through the religious community. God has raised a conscience for his people and for America. It is the message God would deliver through his ministers across the land.
The conscience of a nation is based upon the authority of Gods Word. Notice what Amos said about himself: "The words of Amos,... which he saw concerning Israel" (Amos 1:1). The word translated "saw" is a most specific Hebrew word. There is a Hebrew word meaning "to see" that implies seeing with the natural eye. It means to look at something with the physical eye and see color, shape, form, beauty, and so forth. But this Hebrew word is one which means to see with the eyes of the Spirit and of spiritual understanding. It signifies seeing something that cannot be seen unless God reveals it. The beginning of this message which Amos delivered to Israel is a reminder that God had revealed to him spiritual truths that had to be declared. Spiritual comprehension can come only through the Spirit.
The conscience of a nation does not speak of social conditions separate from God and his nature, but rather declares, "Thus saith the Lord" (1:3). Notice how this concept is repeated in 7:1, 3-9 and 17. God's method of revealing his will is through inspired men who stand upon the authority of God's Word. The prophet has to speak and preach. He has no alternative. There is a divine compulsion about it. He must proclaim, "Thus saith the Lord."
We can debate theology all we want, but the beginning of a valid message from God is based on the authority of the Word of God. We must start with an authoritative Word from God. That is why there is virtually no conscience today. The Word of God is not sufficiently magnified. There are many churches across America which do not preach from the Bible. No wonder there is no conscience in America today! We can dispute what preachers say, but not what God says. The message for the conscience of a nation is based on the authority of God's Word.
The second characteristic of the conscience of a nation is: It is based on the nature of God's character. God is primarily a moral being. Amos accepted that truth and preached it with throbbing intensity. His soul was swept up by it. God is a moral being and all nations are responsible to him. If we can avoid gaining a concept of the character of God, then we can live like we want. We can fuss, fight, disagree, and have everything in our lives that is ungodly and against the purposes of God. But if we once understand the moral nature of God, we cannot live ungodly lives. The conscience of a nation delivers a message that is based on the nature of God's character.
There are four characteristics of God in the Book of Amos we must catch if we are to understand the message as it was delivered. First is the holiness of God: "The Lord God has sworn by his holiness that the time will come when he will put hooks in your noses and lead you away like the cattle you are; they will drag the last of you away with fishhooks!" (4:2, TLB). His message of warning, approaching judgment, and retribution was based squarely upon God's holiness. The holiness of God means that God is a complete being. There is no fracturing of God. He is a whole person.
Not only is he whole and complete, but God is different from us. Holiness means he is separate from us, not like us. We are sinful—God is holy. God's holiness needs to be proclaimed. His holiness includes his love and grace. Because he is holy, he moves to provide that which we cannot provide. "He who knew no sin became sin for us that we might be made the righteousness of God" (2 Cor. 5:21). We cannot be holy. Our very best is as filthy rags in his sight. But God, in his holiness requiring perfection of us, moved in his grace to provide that perfection through his Son. The message of God is predicated on the holiness of God.
The second characteristic of God is that of righteousness: "O evil men, you make 'justice' a bitter pill for the poor and oppressed. 'Righteousness' and 'fair play' are meaningless fictions to you!" (5:7, TLB). The easiest way to define "righteousness" is: It is that which is straight as opposed to that which is crooked, that which is perfect as opposed to that which is imperfect, that which is pure as opposed to that which is impure. The righteousness of God implies that God's actions and relationships are always right. He is always straight. There is no perverseness.
James wrote that there is "no variableness, neither shadow of turning" in him (James 1:17). His righteousness is consistent. That will either bring blessing to us or condemnation, depending upon our attitude toward God. If we are right with God, it will be a blessing. If we are walking in harmony with his purposes for our lives, it is wonderful to know that God is righteous. We don't have to wonder how he will respond to any situation. His character is straight. He will always do that which is right The third characteristic of God we must understand is the judgment of God. "Ye who turn judgment to wormwood" (5:7). The word judgment is translated justice in The Living Bible. It refers to the decisions of God. God is always going to make the just decision.
People become upset over those who have never heard the gospel. God is a just God. His decisions are always right. No one is "sent to hell." Every man has the opportunity to respond. God sees to that. No one can ever say to God, "You sent me to hell." His justice rests upon his righteousness, and his righteousness rests upon his holiness. We can count on his justice. "Be not deceived," Paul wrote to the churches in Galatia, "God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap" (Gal. 6:7). Amos had a very graphic way of putting it. Remember, he was a country boy. In speaking of the judgment of God he observed, "As if a man did flee from a lion, and a bear met him; or went into the house, and leaned his hand on the wall, and a serpent bit him" (5:19). Amos was saying that God's judgment will prevail; you will be found out. We can do as we please, but we must know that God's judgment is irrevocable; it is true, and we will face judgment. The conscience of a nation is based on the justice or judgment of God.
The fourth characteristic is that of grace. "It may be that the Lord God of hosts will be gracious unto the remnant of Joseph" (Amos 5:15b). In the midst of thundering judgment, there stands the thrilling call of God's grace. God desires to meet the needs of his people. Every warning God gives us is because he loves us. Amos went into minute detail about how God gives warning:
"I sent you hunger" says the Lord, "but it did no good; you still would not return to me. I ruined your crops by holding back the rain three months before the harvest I sent rain on one city, but not another. While rain fell on one field, another was dry and withered. People from two or three cities would make their weary journey for a drink of water to a city that had rain, but there wasn't ever enough. Yet, you wouldn't return to me," says the Lord.
"I sent blight and mildew on your farms and your vineyards; the locusts ate your figs and olive trees. And still you wouldn't return to me," says the Lord. "I sent you plagues like those of Egypt long ago. I killed your lads in war and drove away your horses. The stench of death was terrible to smell. And yet you refused to come. I destroyed some of your cities, as I did Sodom and Gomorrah; those left are like half-burned firebrands snatched away from the fire. And still you won't return to me," says the Lord (Amos 4:6-9, TLB).
Every natural disaster you can imagine is a warning from God because God loves us. I am not claiming that he sits down and plots where to send the next tornado. But I know this: every tornado and every hurricane he allows is a warning from him because he loves us. It is his grace.
Notice what else he had done for them. "I cleared the land of the Amorites before them—the Amorites, as tall as cedar trees, and strong as oaks! But I lopped off their fruit and cut their roots" (2:9, TLB). He rebuked their enemies. He made Israel strong and broke the backs of her enemies, yet they didn't return to him. "I brought you out from Egypt and led you through the desert forty years, to possess the land of the Amorites. And I chose your sons to be Nazirites and prophets" (2:10-11, TLB). He provided miraculously for them and sent them spiritual ministers, all because he wanted them to return to him. We must understand how much God cares about us. He has gone to every imaginable length to draw us to himself.
So, the conscience of a nation is based upon the nature of God's character.
Thirdly, it is based on the requirements of God's holiness. There are only two responses that will keep God's judgment from falling upon us as individuals and as a nation. First is repentance. "The Lord says to the people of Israel, 'Seek me—and live'" (5:4, TLB). "Seek the Lord and live" (5:6, TLB). The word seek means to feel out with the hands. It is the picture of a blind person who cannot see, and he feels with his hands or his feet and creates a path in a certain direction. It is also the picture of a person who is lame, blind, and helpless because of his sin and is desperately seeking help. That is the word used here. It speaks of genuine repentance. The only way to God is repentance. As long as we are self-satisfied and condemn others without ever looking at our own lives, we cannot come to God. The requirements of God's holiness are repentance and then obedience.
"For many and great are your sins. I know them all so well... Be good, flee evil—and live!... Hate evil and love the good" (5:12, 14-15, TLB). In other words, obey God. It doesn't do any good to say "Amen" to divine truth if we aren't living it. The conscience of a nation is the people of God who proclaim, "Thus says the Lord: repent and obey."
In the first chapter Amos wrote about the sins of their enemies. Amaziah didn't get too upset with Amos when he preached about the sins of Assyria, Damascus, Gaza, and Egypt. But when Amos got through talking about all those nations, he came back to assert, "Israel knows better. Israel has light. Israel has been chosen by God. Her judgment will be more terrible than the judgment of the pagans."
Jesus gave the same truth when he talked about pagan cities. "Woe to you, Chorazin, and woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles I did in your streets had been done in wicked Tyre and Sidon their people would have repented long ago in shame and humility. Truly, Tyre and Sidon will be better off on the Judgment Day than you! And Capernaum, though highly honored, shall go down to hell! For if the marvelous miracles I did in you had been done in Sodom, it would still be here today. Truly, Sodom will be better off at the Judgment Day than you!" (Matt. 11:21-24, TLB).
Jesus taught that a nation which has a message from God is held accountable for that message. That means it would be better for us to be natives in the darkest corner of the earth, who have never heard the name of Jesus, than to come week after week into the house of God, hear the message, and do nothing about what God calls us to do. The judgment of God will be more severe upon us than many others. That is a staggering principle for us today.
If we regard the tremendous light we possess, our judgment will be more terrible than that on Sodom and Gomorrah. They would have repented if they had seen what we have seen. When we go overseas into lands that haven't heard the message of Christ, people by the thousands flock to Christ. They will walk all night—hundreds of miles—stand endlessly for hours, crying for more. Thousands will be saved. But here in America, we have more important things to do. Twelve o'clock is the magic hour. We think we must leave church right at 12:00 and rush back to all of our other concerns. It will be a sad, sad day when God's judgment ultimately falls upon this land and upon our lives. It is a national truth we must keep in mind.
Finally, it is based upon the desire of God's love.
"Then, at that time, I will rebuild the City of David, which is now lying in ruins, and return it to its former glory, and Israel will possess what is left of Edom, and of all the nations that belong to me." For so the Lord, who plans all, has said, "The time will come when there will be such abundance of crops, that the harvest time will scarcely end before the farmer starts again to sow another crop, and the terraces of grapes upon the hills of Israel will drip sweet wine! I will restore the fortunes of my people Israel, and they shall rebuild their ruined cities, and live in them again, and they shall plant vineyards and gardens and eat their crops and drink their wine. I will firmly plant them there upon the land that I have given them; they shall not be pulled up again," says the Lord your God (9:11-15, TLB).
The desire of God's love is to heal, to save and to forgive. And the conscience of America is a conscience based on the authority of the Word of God, upon the nature of the character of God, and upon the requirements of the holiness of God. But we always have the message of the desire of the love of God for us. It is vitally relevant to our lives. We can start at the place where Amos sought to draw the people.
Do we stand in a relationship approved and accepted by God? Have we been obedient to him? Have we done what God has called us to do? Amaziah was a priest in Israel, but he knew not God!